Brittany Ochira, Senior Project Manager, National Conflict Resolution Center
As the dust of the election and the insurrection at the Capitol settles, people across the country are taking stock of their own relationships and wondering - what is the path forward? The political polarization in the U.S. is no longer just something we hear about on the news - it’s something we confront daily on social media, and it has caused rifts in many of our personal relationships.
On February 11th, the National Conflict Resolution Center (NCRC) hosted a virtual conversation with Arthur Brooks, Harvard professor, social scientist, and author, to talk about the extent of the polarization in our country, and what we can do about it.
According to Brooks, 93% of Americans don’t like how divided we’ve become as a country, and 1 in 6 Americans have stopped talking to a close friend or family member because of politics. Brook’s main message: we need a diversity of ideas to solve our country’s complex problems, and to achieve this we need to talk to people who are different from us.
Recognizing that this is something easier said than done, after the Brooks conversation, many San Diegans were looking for the next step to take to overcome the political divide that has so clearly hit home. Through the Live Well Exchange, an initiative supported by the County of San Diego Community Action Partnership, NCRC hosted four interactive virtual events in February and March for San Diego County residents to engage in the next step of overcoming polarization in their own lives and in their community.
The first event, a virtual circle held on February 19th called “From Contempt to Collaboration” (a title inspired by Brooks’ book, Love Your Enemies), participants opened up about the challenges that come with moving ourselves from feeling anger, divisiveness, or contempt, and turning that into collaboration. We discussed how the political divide is affecting us personally and celebrated the steps we have taken to overcome it by sharing times when we were able to shift our mindset about someone. The next virtual circle was held on February 27th called “The Power and Peril of Loving Your Enemies” and went a step deeper with participants. The idea of loving one's enemies has a basis in many of the world’s religions and has been a central organizing theme for the work of peacemakers like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. This can be a challenging practice when historical oppression and other harms come into the picture and walking the line between forgiveness and justice proves no small feat. We wrestled with this complexity and questioned together who is our “enemy” or adversary and how our framing of the “other” can play a big role in how we reconcile (or don’t).
In addition to these community conversations, NCRC also offered two very practical, skill-building workshops on February 22nd and March 2nd called The ART of Inclusive Communication: Meeting Along the Political Spectrum. Using “hot topic” scenarios as practice, participants used the skills of identifying needs, expressing their opinions in a non-confrontational way, and listening actively to have respectful conversations with people from diverse political points of view.
Over 150 concerned citizens from across the political spectrum came together for these interactive sessions and were frequently paired up in breakout discussions with people who had opposing views on many policies, but they could all agree on a shared desire to bridge the political divide in this country and in our San Diego community. We are thinking now of these 150 people, the friends, and family members they have mended fences with, and the sheer potential of how many relationships can be changed if each of them is inspired to reach out to someone else. In these seemingly small acts of reaching across the aisle, we never know the ripple effect that it will have on, and within, our communities.
Interview link: Interview
If you would like your community group, faith community, or non-profit organization to participate in a circle or workshop on bridging divides, contact Brittney Ochira, firstname.lastname@example.org .